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Welcome remarks at the commemoration of the 10th anniversary of Estonian and Latvian accession to the Schengen area

21.12.2017

Honourable President Vējonis,

ladies and gentlemen.

police and border guard members,

the good residents of Valga and Valka,

Time flies – it has already been ten years since the physical border between our countries disappeared. Being neighbours, we had close relations before that time as well, but the lifting of border checks at the Estonian and Latvian border crossings upon accession to the Schengen visa area made interactions between people even simpler and smoother. The dividing line vanished and gave the inhabitants of the border regions impetus to do things and build their home communities together because doing things alone just doesn't yield the same outcome. Together, we have contributed to creating a business-friendly environment in the border regions – it can't be denied, we have done our share to make the Latvian border regions among the most popular destinations for many Estonians, improved services related to health care, developed a joint vocational education system, laid the conditions for cross-border employment, improved our living environment and found solutions to individual problems on our agenda.

We perceive this change best here, in the twin cities of Valga and Valka, where the cooperation between the two communities has always been mutually beneficial and necessary to both sides. A very good example is the way the public urban space is shared by the twin towns, the development of the city centre, and the collaboration in providing art and music education. Valga County Vocational Training Centre offers education to Estonians and Latvians and the inhabitants of both countries receive medical care from Valga Hospital. We can deepen and improve that cooperation and solidarity even further to prevent new barriers from taking the place of the former physical border and getting in the way of people.

We tend to grow quickly accustomed to good things It's the same way with the freedom that the Schengen Area has given us. We take the lack of borders for granted, but to keep it that way, we have to do work every day because calls to dismantle the Schengen system are still heard in Europe.

To keep that from happening, we need to protect the pillars and common values the European Union is built on because Schengen's invisible border also rests on that foundation.

We want the border to always remain invisible and supported by our common values, which, after all, are invisible as well. We have to strive for closer relations between our law enforcement bodies and agencies responsible for domestic security to find ways and practical solutions to make the common border area open as well as secure. Of course, the border is not the only one in Europe where solutions to such questions are sought collectively. It is not the only place where openness and security have to both be ensured. At this point, I would like to thank the police and border guard members because it is largely thanks to you that we joined the Schengen Area ten years ago. Thank you for protecting our security in this borderless border area!

Next year, both Estonia and Latvia celebrate their centenary. Let us use this 100th anniversary year to bring relations even closer and get to know each other better. Let us keep what we have and look to the future not from the narrow perspective of a border region, because many of the major projects that will influence our development in years to come are regional, such as transport and energy connections. Let's work together in the name of accomplishing these projects.

President Vējonis and I are constantly working to make the voices of Latvia and Estonia be heard in Europe and around the world. I believe that there are many people here who can say the same about their Latvian counterpart or their Estonian colleague, as the case may be.

I also wish you a peaceful Christmas season, a successful conclusion to the old year, and even greater cooperation for next year.